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State board approves seven grants to protect farm, ranch lands, two to Deschutes Land Trust projects

4,000-acre Aspen Valley Ranch in Post
Deschutes Land Trust
4,000-acre Aspen Valley Ranch in Post

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has approved seven grants that will permanently protect some of Oregon’s most important farm and ranch lands.

The awards are the first round of funding from the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program which protects Oregon’s farm and ranch lands from fragmentation and conversion.

Created by the Oregon Legislature in 2017, the OAHP was funded in 2022 with $5 million in general funds. The program funds land conservation through voluntary conservation easements and the execution of management plans that support fish and wildlife habitat on farm and ranch lands.

Last October, OWEB received seven applications for conservation easements to permanently protect 12,480 acres. Last week, the OWEB board voted to award all seven grants, representing diverse geographies, from sage grouse habitat to a family farm outside of Terrebonne.

Approved Projects

  • Wahl Ranch Conservation Easement - Port Orford, Oregon (Wild Rivers Land Trust)
  • Aspen Valley Ranch - Post, Oregon (Deschutes Land Trust)
  • Hagen Farm Conservation Easement - Junction City, Oregon (McKenzie River Trust)
  • Seely Farm - Clatskanie, Oregon (Oregon Agricultural Trust)
  • Pitchfork T - Deschutes County, Oregon (Deschutes Land Trust)
  • Ferrell Ranch - Lake County, Oregon (Oregon Agricultural Trust)
  • O’Keeffe Ranch - Lake County, Oregon (Oregon Agricultural Trust)

In addition to the state funding it provides for land conservation, the OAHP also provides a source of state match funding for the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, funded through the Farm Bill. This year alone, Oregon received 1,000% more federal funding for agricultural land conservation as a result of the OAHP.

“Thanks to the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, land trusts across Oregon are working with landowners to protect our most important farm and ranch lands,” said Kelley Beamer, Executive Director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts. “There is demand for this program to ensure well-managed lands are conserved, and we know this program can help Oregon harness federal funds on a new level.”

Legislators in Oregon are working to ensure investments in the OAHP continue. The bipartisan House Bill 3366 requests an additional $10.8 million to fund the program into the next biennium; it is currently under consideration in the Ways and Means Committee.

“Oregon’s Agricultural Heritage Program is a vital tool to keep our working ranch and farmlands protected into the future,” said state Representative Mark Owens. “Oregon’s farmers and ranchers are facing increased pressure to transition away from farming and ranching. This program recognizes and supports the many benefits provided by working lands and helps keep working lands working. Continued state support will help us pull down federal funds and make the most of every dollar invested in the program.”  

About the Coalition for Oregon Land Trusts

The Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts serves and strengthens the land trust community in Oregon. At COLT, we build connections and advance policies that help protect our natural world — our water, wildlife and open space — for all people, forever.

This work helps our coalition members — 30 conservation organizations around the state — do what they do best: protect wildlife and wild places, defend working farms and forests, provide recreation and parks, drive climate solutions and science, champion clean water for all and engage communities to protect our natural world.

Approved Land Trust Projects

Wahl Ranch Conservation Easement

  • 775 acres in Port Orford, Oregon
  • Land Trust: Wild Rivers Land Trust
  • Products:Sheep
  • Grant Award: $2.7m

This easement protects a large family ranch and an ecologically critical piece of remarkable landscape for generations to come.

Aspen Valley Ranch

  • 4,000 acres in Post, Oregon
  • Land Trust: Deschutes Land Trust
  • Products:Hay and cattle
  • Grant Award: $263,779

Aspen Valley Ranch is an important wildlife corridor for pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer and includes critical winter range for the latter two species. Conservation easements will help keep the ranch in production for the long term, and proceeds will assist the landowner in buying new equipment and purchasing additional acreage.

Hagen Farm Conservation Easement

  • 210 acres in Junction City, Oregon
  • Land Trust: McKenzie River Trust
  • Products: Hay, blueberries and livestock
  • Grant Award: $269,255

This easement will protect the integrity of this family farming operation, support localized agriculture in the Willamette Valley and maintain the property for multiple uses while retaining the economic viability of agriculture.

Seely Farm

  • 385 acres in Clatskanie, Oregon
  • Land Trust: Oregon Agricultural Trust
  • Products: Beef, hay and mint
  • Grant Award: $276,297

The Seely Farm easement will help a fourth-generation farmer purchase land for their own operation near the larger family farm. It will also help a young rancher pay down a mortgage to open a direct-market cattle ranch near her family farm.

Pitchfork T

  • 170 acres in Deschutes County, Oregon
  • Land Trust: Deschutes Land Trust
  • Products: Hay and cattle
  • Grant Award: $121,134

This property is within a core wildlife migration area for elk and a declining mule deer population. It has been mapped as having a relatively high probability of use during migration.

Ferrell Ranch

  • 514 acres in Lake County, Oregon
  • Land Trust: Oregon Agricultural Trust
  • Products: Beef, cattle and hay
  • Grant Award: $223,056

This easement will allow a first-generation rancher to purchase more land to expand operations, while protecting the land and making it more affordable. The project will support this cattle ranching operation, the primary agricultural commodity in Lake County, Oregon.

O’Keeffe Ranch

  • 6,511 acres in Lake County, Oregon
  • Land Trust: Oregon Agricultural Trust
  • Products: Beef, cattle
  • Grant Award: $277,776

The O'Keeffes are seeking to preserve a century-old family ranching operation and help ensure their economic sustainability for the long term by reinvesting the proceeds into further pasture, economically stabilizing the operation for the future and reducing their reliance on leased pasture.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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